12 Angry Men

USA 1956, 96 mins
Director: Sidney Lumet

SPOILER WARNING The following notes give away the plot.

Adapted by Reginald Rose from his own teleplay – in which one man’s doubts about a murder trial overcome his fellow-jurors’ prejudices – Sidney Lumet’s feature debut makes suspenseful use of a single set and claustrophobic close-ups of a superb cast. Truffaut deemed it a screenwriter’s film – ‘what an author!’ – but called Lumet ‘a director of more than ordinary gifts… We must take him seriously.’

Reginald Rose’s 12 Angry Men teleplay has transferred to film and stage many times, but Sidney Lumet’s claustrophobic movie adaptation of 1957, starring Henry Fonda as the lone voice of scepticism and compassion on a settled jury, has endured the best. Fonda brought more than just his star charisma to the piece: he acquired the film rights to Rose’s script and deferred his pay cheque so that the shoot could come in under budget. The swift, economical style of TV veteran Lumet was supplemented by striking realist cinematography from Boris Kaufman, and also by a cast who had invested time in workshopping their roles before the cameras turned.

The result is an engrossing real-time drama that thrashes out the angst and antipathies of pre-civil-rights America in a locked room. Fonda’s serene mien contrasts with the hotheads – notably Ed Begley’s raving bigot – and anxious types who surround him. The camera hangs back at first, but as the tension rises it moves in tighter, as the weather and the lighting transition from the glare of a heatwave to the darkness of a rainstorm.

These dozen adults are battling each other and their own prejudices to decide the fate of a quivering boy accused of murdering his own father. Rose often dwelt on the theme of bigotry, as far as the TV stations would allow. The teenager in question, briefly glimpsed as we follow the jury into their locked room, is Hispanic and lives in a slum, which fires a few prejudices around the table – and sympathies, too, as Jack Klugman’s Juror No 5 reveals his own past. However, the toughest nut to crack is Lee J. Cobb’s splenetic Juror No 3, paralysed by grief and rage towards his own estranged son. It’s possible to see 12 Angry Men as a cross-generational drama, with a child facing a jury not of his peers, but of distant, older men – reflections of his own father.
Pamela Hutchinson, Sight and Sound, June 2017

‘12 Angry Men’: a contemporary review
This film, from an original television script and directed by a new director from television, shares the same merits as some other recent, unostentatious films from the same source (The Young Stranger, A Man Is Ten Feet Tall): some highly convincing, naturalistic characterisations, a fresh look at some vivid, real-life situations and settings. Here, where the action all takes place in the jury room, the emphasis is naturally on character and the interplay of personalities. From their initial indifference to a true moral responsibility (one is anxious to get to a ball game; most have digested only the prosecutor’s analysis of the facts) they are one by one drawn into a tighter involvement, a quickened interest to discover the truth of the situation. And on the whole, the general tension and the slow breakdown of the circumstantial evidence, is excellently contrived. The acting (particularly of Martin Balsam as Juror No. 1) is easy and concise, with the exception of Lee J. Cobb’s performance as the sadist; and the last few minutes in which Cobb largely figures, represent the only lapse from the high standard elsewhere maintained. Even with this flaw, however, the film remains a compelling and outstandingly well-handled drama.
David Parkinson, Monthly Film Bulletin, June 1957

Directed by: Sidney Lumet
©: Orion, Nova, Twelve Angry Men
Produced by: Henry Fonda, Reginald Rose
Associate Producer: George Justin
Assistant Director: Donald Kranze
Script Supervisor: Faith Elliott
Story and Screenplay by: Reginald Rose
Director of Photography: Boris Kaufman
Operative Cameraman: Saul Midwall
Film Editor: Carl Lerner
Art Director: Robert Markel
Make-up: Herman Buchman
Music Composed and Conducted by: Kenyon Hopkins
Sound: James A. Gleason

Henry Fonda (Davis, eighth juror)
Lee J. Cobb (third juror)
Ed Begley (tenth juror)
E.G. Marshall (fourth juror)
Jack Warden (seventh juror)
Martin Balsam (first juror)
John Fiedler (second juror)
Jack Klugman (fifth juror)
Edward Binns (sixth juror)
Joseph Sweeney (ninth juror)
George Voskovec (eleventh juror)
Robert Webber (twelfth juror)
Rudy Bond (judge) *
James A. Kelly (guard) *
Billy Nelson (court clerk) *
John Savoca (defendant) *

USA 1956©
96 mins

* Uncredited

La Grande Illusion
Sat 1 Jan 14:30, Tue 11 Jan 18:15, Sun 16 Jan 12:40
Citizen Kane
Sun 2 Jan 15:30, Tue 11 Jan 17:50, Thu 27 Jan 18:00
Twelve Angry Men
Mon 3 Jan 12:50, Fri 14 Jan 14:40, Mon 24 Jan 18:20, Fri 28 Jan 18:20
Shadow of a Doubt
Mon 3 Jan 15:40, Sat 22 Jan 12:10, Tue 25 Jan 14:30
Les Enfants terribles
Tue 4 Jan 18:00, Sun 30 Jan 15:15
Rome, Open City (Roma, città aperta)
Wed 5 Jan 17:50, Wed 26 Jan 18:00 (+ intro by lecturer and writer Dr Julia Wagner), Sat 29 Jan 13:00
Letter from an Unknown Woman
Thu 6 Jan 20:40, Sat 15 Jan 15:40, Mon 31 Jan 20:45
Casque d’or
Fri 7 Jan 20:45, Wed 12 Jan 17:50 (+ pre-recorded intro by film critic and historian Pamela Hutchinson), Sun 23 Jan 13:10
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
Sat 8 Jan 16:00, Thu 13 Jan 18:10, Mon 17 Jan 18:20
Ordet (The Word)
Sun 9 Jan 13:20, Tue 18 Jan 20:30
Smiles of a Summer Night
Sun 9 Jan 16:00, Thu 20 Jan 20:50, Tue 25 Jan 18:10
Bigger Than Life
Mon 10 Jan 14:30, Wed 19 Jan 18:05 (+ intro by Geoff Andrew, Programmer-at-Large), Wed 26 Jan 20:50

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Programme notes and credits compiled by the BFI Documentation Unit
Notes may be edited or abridged
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